April 27, 2012
Spring in the city: a list of spots for eating and drinking outdoors

I'm sitting outside Old Soul in the alley. The sun is out. There's a breeze. It's not too hot or too cold - at least not yet. Spring is in the air and there's nothing more pleasant than the weather during this stretch before it really starts to heat up.

Which leads me to a recent email inquiry from a reader asking if I could suggest a good place for outdoor dining. I couldn't possibly narrow it down to one.

So what follows is my impromptu list of favorite outdoor spots for eating and/or enjoying a coffee, complete with my bias in favor of dog-friendly locales. If you don't like dogs, then I cannot help you. If you have a favorite that's not on my list, let us know about it.

There are two ways to look at outdoor seating. It can either be in a location that connects you with the energy on the street, or it can be a tucked away patio that gives you a respite from the hustle and bustle of the world. Shade is important, too, and it becomes more important the closer we get to July and those temperatures near 100F.

1. Firehouse (1112 2nd St., Sacramento)
The courtyard patio in the back is simply one of the most elegant and relaxing outdoor dining spots I have seen - anywhere. It's just a great place for lunch, with large trees providing plenty of shade. The only problem: you won't want to leave and head back to work.

2. Bistro Michel (1501 14th St., Sacramento)
What's not to like about this place? The food and service are very good, and the sidewalk ambience at 14th and O is quirky-quiet for midtown/downtown. Due to the configuration of through streets, this corner has the unlikely combination of being right in the thick of things while remaining laid back. After work, there is hardly any traffic, though you're likely to see plenty of regulars who live nearby strolling past. What's more, this restaurant is exceptionally dog-friendly, meaning that if you stop by with your pooch, an employee is likely to bring out a bowl of water and a dog biscuit.

3. Restaurant Thir13en (1300 H St., Sacramento)
A large, comfortable patio that's great for lunch, drinks after work, dinner or brunch. Take your pick. Lots of good stuff on the menus here, but the burger is incredible.

4. Magpie Café (1409 R St., Sacramento)
I often enjoy sitting at one of the few tables outside to enjoy the tremendous food here. You'll find good people watching, too, since this block of R Street has gone from dead to lively in recent years. One of my favorite spots in town.

5. Sienna (3909 Park Dr., El Dorado Hills)
I was just here on a recent Sunday for brunch and noticed how many people take advantage of the vast, stylish patios - one out front and one on the side/back of this lovely restaurant.

6. Mulvaney's (1215 19th St., Sacramento)
This courtyard-style patio, tucked between the main restaurant and the annex, is just a cool and cozy spot to enjoy the excellent food and professional service at one of the city's stellar restaurants.

7. Old Soul in the alley (1716 L St., rear alley, Sacramento)
This coffee house has done plenty to show that alleys are viable places, too. Though the alley idea hasn't really caught on elsewhere, this L Street alley, with its brick pavers, solar-powered lights and bustling foot traffic is a cool place to hang out and enjoy and excellent espresso or, as I did Friday, have a healthy Greek salad for lunch. Stop in next door at Edible Pedal if you're into bikes. Old Soul at the Weatherstone also has outdoor seating that appeals to many.

8. Temple Coffee (1010 9th St., Sacramento)
This highly regarded coffee place has in recent months moved a block from its original location on 10th St. and, in doing so, created a large sidewalk patio that's good for relaxing and watching the world go by, especially during business hours. The S Street location has a nice patio, too, and may be preferable at night and on weekends.

9. Chocolate Fish Coffee (corner of 3rd and Q streets, Sacramento)
I usually only manage to stop by here on the weekends and, weather permitting, almost always sit on the very large smoke-free patio out front, where there is always a bowl full of water for the dogs. Inside, a barista will prepare one of the city's great espressos and, if he spots your pooch outside, will pull out a cookie jar and offer a dog biscuit.

10. Peet's at MARRS (1050 20th St., Sacramento)
Even if you're not a big fan of chains, this place is great for sitting outside and chatting with friends over coffee on the raised boardwalk-style patio. The repurposing of this once-overlooked block has been great for midtown. We need 10 more blocks like it.

11. Formoli's Bistro (3839 J St., Sacramento)
Since it swapped spots with Gonul's (now Vanilla Bean), Formoli's was able to create an outdoor patio for folks to enjoy the creative flavors and refined cooking found here. I enjoyed a very comfortable - and delicious - lunch here recently.

12. Juno's Kitchen & Delicatessen (3675 J St., Sacramento)
The indoor dining space is tiny, but there are a few spots out front on the sidewalk to enjoy this lively stretch of J Street and partake in the excellent cooking of chef Mark Helms, who named his place after the family dog, Juno, who recently overcame a rattlesnake bite suffered while gallivanting along the American River.

13. Paesanos (1806 Capitol Ave., Sacramento)
Great little patio out front, where you can watch the foot traffic flow past. There has always been one notoriously "hot" table that is not protected by shade. It's practically glowing at lunchtime in the summer. Don't sit there!

14. Zocalo (1801 Capitol Ave., Sacramento)
The outdoor seating here is especially elegant at night. A great place to relax, look around and take in midtown.

15. Crepeville (1730 L St., Sacramento)
This is a casual spot where you order at the counter. We almost always sit outside. The sidewalk tables can be lively or relaxing, but it's never dull.

16. Monkey Cat (805 Lincoln Way, Auburn)
Good food and service and a nice patio on the side, where dogs are allowed.

17. Coffee Garden (2904 Franklin Blvd., Sacramento)
Coffee Garden
Great, leafy oasis of a patio in the back at this Curtis Park spot. Dogs are actually allowed to walk through the coffee shop to get there. Very pleasant spot.

18. Ginger Elizabeth Chocolates (1801 L St., Sacramento)
Especially at night, this is a nice place to sit and enjoy the incredible desserts made here. Everything is excellent.

19. TreyBCakes (1801 L St., Sacramento)
Another fine dessert spot on the same block, with more nice seating out front.

20. Pearl on the River (1379 Garden Hwy., Sacramento)
I haven't been here in awhile, but I remember the nice food and the breezy vibe on the patio overlooking the Sacramento River.

21. Tower Café (1518 Broadway, Sacramento)
Though regular readers may recall that I'm not really a fan of this place, I know plenty of people who enjoy the patio. Indeed, it is a pleasant spot.

There are many more. Don't get upset if I've missed one of your favorites. Let us know.

Blair Anthony Robertson is The Bee's restaurant critic. Follow him on Twitter, @blarob.

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